Background: Following the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, record numbers of workers, particularly those aged over 50, have become economically inactive in the UK, termed the ‘great resignation’. A possible explanation is people leaving the workforce following contracting COVID-19. We used data held by the UK Longitudinal Linkage Collaboration to investigate if testing positive for COVID-19 was associated with increased rates of economic inactivity or not having a job. Methods: The sample consists of around 9,000 people from five longitudinal cohort and panel studies (1970 British Cohort Study, English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, 1958 National Child Development Study, Next Steps, and Understanding Society) which collected survey data from the start of the pandemic up until March 2021. Sample is restricted to those aged between 25 and 66 inclusive, in employment at the start of the pandemic, resident in England and consented for NHS record linkage. The outcomes were economic activity (employed or actively looking for work vs economically active) and employment status (any paid employment vs not) These were measured at the time of the last follow up survey (November 2020 to March 2021 depending on cohort). The exposure was NHS records indicating a positive test for COVID-19 prior to end of follow-up. Analyses were conducted using logistic regression adjusting for confounding variables including pre-pandemic measures of socioeconomic position and health. Results: At the time of follow-up five percent of the sample tested positive for Covid, five percent had become economically inactive, and ten percent were not in employment. After adjustment, testing positive for COVID-19 was not associated with either economic inactivity (OR 0.95, 95% CI 0.60 to 1.50) or non-employment (OR 0.83, 95% CI 0.59 to 1.18). Additional analyses indicated that relationships may vary by age. For example, testing positive was associated with increased risk of economic inactivity (OR 2.23, 95% CI 1.05 to 4.71) among those aged under 50, but with reduced risk of being economically inactive (OR 0.53, 95% CI 0.27 to 1.05) among those over 50. Conclusion: Experiencing COVID-19 appears unlikely to explain why older workers have become economically inactive. One possibility is that labour market withdrawal may have protected them. However, it is also possible that during the pandemic in late 2020/early 2021 experiencing COVID-19 may have contributed to some younger workers becoming economically inactive which could have longer term economic and health impacts.


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Shaw, R., Rhead, R., Zhu, J., Wels, J., Silverwood, R., Demou, E., Hamilton, O., Pattaro, S., Boyd, A. & Katikireddi, S. 2023, 'The Relationship Between Testing Positive for COVID-19 and Economic Activity and Employment Status: Evidence from Five Longitudinal Studies Linked to English NHS Testing Data', Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 77(S1), pp. A135-A136. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jech-2023-SSMabstracts.283

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Last updated: 20 October 2023
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